One of the things I like best about being part of such a great lit blogging community is the daily book recommendations I receive from like-minded readers. Many have lamented the death of literary Twitter, but even on this crazy social media site I have managed to block out most of the nonsense and glean book suggestions from and engage in interesting literary conversations with other bloggers. The other day as I was scrolling through my feed and reading the posts from my interesting literary friends (you know who you are) when I saw a Tweet that included a poem by Jack Gilbert entitled “Failing and Flying” that begins, “Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.” I immediately ran to my bookshelves and pulled out the volume of Jack Gilbert that I had bought a while back based on a recommendation from another reader. What a pleasant experience it is to be involved and included in a community of people who love books and literature and talking about such things. I was never the “cool” kid in school but being part of lit blogging makes me feel that I am a part of the “in” crowd.
Jack Gilbert often uses references and allusions to Greek and Roman myths and literature in his poems which makes reading his pieces a richer experience for me. I thought I would share just a few of the poems that made the greatest impression, but I highly recommend reading his entire volume of Collected Poems.
Orpheus in Greenwich Village:
What if Orpheus,
confident in the hard-
should go down into Hell?
Out of the clean light down?
And then, surrounded
by the closing beasts
and readying his lyre,
should notice, suddenly
they had no ears?
Some days, especially at this time of the year, it feels as though I am Orpheus signing to the “beasts” who have no ears.
Many of the poems in this collection contemplate the different types of love we experience throughout the course of our lives. Gilbert talks about young love, passionate love, mature love and married love. The next poem I chose describes the enigmatic nature of love’s genesis and evolution. I thought, as I read this poem, that “we cobble love together” like a mosaic and every time we fall in love the experience is like composing a different work of art:
Painting on Plato’s Wall:
The shadows behind people walking
in the bright piazza are not merely
gaps in the sunlight. Just as goodness
is not the absence of badness.
Goodness is a triumph. And so it is
with love. Love is not the part
we are born with that flowers
a little and then wanes as we
grow up. We cobble love together
from this and those of our machinery
until there is suddenly an apparition
that never existed before. There it is,
unaccountable. The woman and our
desire are somehow turned into
brandy by Athena’s tiny owl filling
the darkness around an old villa
on the mountain with its plaintive
mewing. As a man might be
turned into someone else while
living kind of happy up there
with the lady’s gentle dying.
And one final poem worth pointing out is entitled “Trouble,” the first three lines of which I found rather striking:
That is what the Odyssey means.
Love can leave you nowhere in New Mexico
raising peacocks for the rest of your life.
The seriously happy heart is a problem.
No the easy excitement, but summer
in the Mediterranean mixed with
the rain and bitter cold of February
on the Riviera, everything on fire
in the violent winds. The pregnant heart
is drive to hopes that are the wrong
size for this world. Love is always
disturbing in the heavenly kingdom.
Eden cannot manage so much ambition.
The kids ran from all over the piazza
yelling and pointing and jeering
at the young Saint Chrysostom
standing dazed in the church doorway
with the shining around his mouth
where the Madonna had kissed him.
Who among us with “pregnant heart” hasn’t traveled a long distance, endured discomfort, various tribulations and the agony of hope all in the name of love?
Have you read this collection or any other pieces by Jack Gilbert? Or, better yet, what other poetry or literature recommendations have you gleaned from the lit blogging community recently?